An increase in Airbnb rentals is linked to more crime in some Boston neighborhoods, a new study finds

An increase in crime in certain neighborhoods in Boston was linked to an increase of Airbnb rentals in the areas over the span of several years, a new study found.

An uptick in violence in certain neighborhoods in Boston appears to be linked to an increase of Airbnb rentals in the areas over the span of several years, according to a study published this month.

The study was published July 14 by researchers at Northeastern University in Boston, reported on Friday.

Because the increase in violent crime occurred several years after Airbnb rentals were introduced to the area, the researchers linked the uptick in crime to a disruption in the social dynamic in the communities created by the increase in short-term rentals, and not to an increase in tourism.

“Airbnb prevalence in a neighborhood appears to be associated with increases in violence, but not with public social disorder or private conflict,” the study found.

Representatives for Airbnb did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment Saturday.

There were more than 6,000 Airbnb rentals in Boston in 2018, according to the research, more than double the number the city had in 2014, the study said.

“What’s interesting about social organization is that it’s not really about going over to each other’s houses for backyard barbecues, it’s not knowing all your neighbors” Daniel O’Brien, one of the researchers who conducted the study, told “It’s as little as being familiar strangers.”

Airbnb in a blog post last week appeared to defend itself against claims presented by the researchers.

“The study examines a handful of districts in Boston only, and then extrapolates that into nationwide generalizations without providing detailed evidence,” the company said.

Airbnb also claimed researchers used “inaccurate data” and a “flawed methodology” to reach their conclusions, arguing that researchers didn’t control other variables, like new construction in neighborhoods and the “overall economic conditions.”

“Over the last year-plus, various reports indicate the unfortunate trend that crime has risen in many American cities (even as travel and tourism, including short-term rentals, have suffered in urban markets). There are many complex issues that contribute to rises and falls in crime rates that require serious research to help inform and guide public policy work,” the company said in the blog post.

It added: “As a society, we should be working to advance serious research. In this context, Airbnb will be formally reaching out to Northeastern University to express our concerns about the lack of academic rigor in this paper and learn more about the protocols the University applies to assure the quality of the research performed by those associated with the school.”

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A town let Amazon open what it thought would be a small delivery station, but now it’s reportedly dealing with trucks that ignore road signs and damage to its historic cemetery

amazon warehouse truck shipping
  • Truck and trailer traffic at an Amazon delivery station near Boston is causing headaches for locals, The Information reports.
  • One truck reportedly knocked over a fence and a tree at a cemetery, and another damaged a monument.
  • Amazon paid for repairs, and is working with community leaders to address local concerns.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon’s quest to offer one-hour delivery to nearly all households in the US is causing major headaches for a town near Boston, The Information’s Paris Martineau reported on Thursday.

Normally, the arrival of Amazon leads to local perks like new jobs in delivery and logistics, as well as better wages for workers at other companies nearby. But The Information’s report highlights how the surge of demand in recent years is straining or outweighing some of those benefits for locals in Milford, Massachusetts.

Back in 2016, the company converted an old humidifier factory in Milford into a “delivery station” to sort and dispatch packages for the Boston metro area, and expanded its operations to a second facility last year, according to the report.

But in March, one of the hundreds of trucks that serve the station knocked over a fence and a large tree at the town cemetery, and weeks later another Amazon truck damaged a grave monument, according to records and meetings viewed by The Information.

Local officials told The Information that Amazon-branded trucks were responsible for destroying a traffic light, a retaining wall, several fences, and a store’s sign. Amazon claimed it was not at fault for the cemetery damage, but hired contractors to repair the monument and fence and replace the tree, a town official told the publication.

The company previously said that because trucks and drivers are managed by independent contractors, it is not generally responsible for the damage or disturbances they cause. Even so, Amazon designed and paid for road signs instructing semi-trailers against driving down certain roads.

According to the town official, drivers have said that Amazon’s navigation app occasionally directs them to break traffic rules, including routing the semi-trailer through the cemetery.

Even when they are following laws, The Information’s report highlights that the trucks cause a significant disturbance in the previously quiet New England town. The publication observed 52 tractor-trailers at the Amazon facility between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., and measured sounds from the trucks above 85 decibels – similar to a lawn mower.

The Information also observed a holding area for hundreds of empty Amazon-branded delivery vans that also had a bank of portable toilets for drivers. Each morning, convoys of 50 to 100 vans depart the delivery center every half hour, jamming up traffic at surrounding intersections, according to the report.

“The safety of employees, drivers and communities we serve is our top priority,” an Amazon spokesperson told The Information. “When we enter a new community we work closely with local community leaders, business owners, and policymakers to address any concerns regarding the impact of our operations. We worked with the City of Milford throughout our expanded growth and look forward to the continued community partnership.”

An Amazon spokesperson was not immediately available to comment when contacted by Insider.

In its initial proposal to the town, Amazon said the delivery station would provide more than 300 well-paying jobs to the area, but one member of the town’s planning board told The Information the deal has been a “net negative” for the community.

For its part, Amazon is increasing its engagement with community leaders, organizing trash cleanups, and implementing new policies about traffic flow and noise. In April last year, the company organized a task force to address communities’ concerns as delivery operations expand across the US.

Read more over at The Information.

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Ex-Boston Mayor Marty Walsh knew of the domestic violence allegations against his pick for the city police commissioner prior to appointing him, affidavit says

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, speaks during the inaugural meeting of the Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, with Vice President Kamala Harris, in Harris’ ceremonial office, Thursday, May 13, 2021. When he was mayor of Boston, Walsh appointed Dennis White as Boston Police commissioner in January 2021, prior to joining the Biden administration.

  • Ex-Mayor of Boston Marty Walsh knew of past domestic abuse allegations against his police commissioner pick, according to a court affidavit.
  • Walsh, now US Labor Secretary, maintained that he had no knowledge of the internal affair history of Dennis White.
  • White was placed on administrative leave in February after a Boston Globe investigation revealed he had allegedly pushed and threatened to shoot his then-wife.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

According to a court affidavit filed earlier this week, then-Mayor of Boston Marty Walsh was aware of the domestic abuse allegations against his pick for the city’s police commissioner.

Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White was placed on administrative leave in February after a report by The Boston Globe revealed 1999 allegations that White had pushed and threatened to shoot his then-wife, who was also a police officer. White succeeded retired commissioner William Gross in January 2021 after Walsh appointed him.

The affidavit is part of a lawsuit filed by White against acting Mayor Kim Janey after the city attempted to fire him earlier this month following an outside investigation initiated by Walsh, WBUR reported.

In the affidavit, Gross said in January 2014, when he was superintendent-in-chief of the BPD, he and then-commissioner William Evans were reviewing candidates on the force for promotion, including White, who was up for promotion to deputy superintendent.

Gross said the mayor must approve every candidate to the command staff, and therefore is briefed on each one and their internal affairs history.

“There is no way anyone is brought onto the command staff without such a briefing to the mayor and approval by the mayor,” Gross said in the affidavit. “The city, including Mayor Walsh, was aware no later than January 2014 of White’s IA [internal affairs] record.”

Gross’ remarks in the affidavit contradict Evans’ and Walsh’s claims that they were not aware of White’s past prior to being appointed to the commissioner role.

In February, Walsh, who currently serves as the US Secretary of Labor for the Biden administration, denied having any knowledge of the domestic abuse allegations prior to appointing White as police commissioner.

“These disturbing issues were not known to me or my staff but should have been at the forefront,” Walsh said on February 3, ahead of his nomination hearing to be labor secretary.

In a Wednesday statement, Gross continued to dispute Gross’ claim in the affidavit, saying that he “was not aware of these serious allegations until after I appointed White as police commissioner.”

“Neither the allegations nor the internal affairs files were shared with me in 2014, or during any other consideration of Dennis White,” Walsh said in the statement to The Globe. “Had I known, I would not have chosen him for police commissioner or any other role.”

Evans also denied that he nor the former mayor knew about White’s internal affair history, saying that it was “not true.”

“Under no circumstances did I know about his past, nor did the mayor know,” Evans told The Globe.

White called the investigation a “sham” and Janey’s attempts to fire him as an “ambush,” WBUR reported. He filed his own affidavit Wednesday denying the allegations in his internal affairs history, and disputing claims made in a 19-page report by an independent investigator.

“The investigator’s report, which was made public by the Acting Mayor, has had a devastating effect on me,” White said in the affidavit. “It is filled with false allegations of the most serious nature, including allegations I committed the crime of domestic violence, and has caused the most severe damage to my reputation with the general public.”

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A Boston patrol cop allegedly abused a 12-year-old in 1995. Last year the victim reported that his daughter was abused by the same cop, who kept his badge despite an investigation finding he likely committed the crime.

Boston police
A Boston police car sits outside the Long Wharf Marriott hotel in Boston on March 12, 2020.

  • A former Boston patrolman is facing charges for allegedly sexually assaulting minors.
  • The Boston Police Department knew of allegations since 1995, the Boston Globe reported.
  • Last summer, six minors came forward with new allegations of abuse against Patrick M. Rose Sr.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Boston Police Department knew its union leader had previous allegations of sexual assault against a minor before a man and his daughter went to a police station last summer to report she had been molested, the Boston Globe reported.

In 1995, the father had also alleged Patrick M. Rose Sr. assaulted him when he was 12 years old. The police department at the time filed a criminal complaint against Rose and investigated the accusations. They found that it was likely that Rose had committed a crime.

The boy was reportedly pressured to recant his story and the criminal investigation was dropped in 1996, but a police internal affairs investigation continued and found that Rose broke the law.

Additionally, court records showed that after the criminal case was dropped, Rose’s abuse of the boy continued and also “escalated,” but the department has not said what disciplinary action if any was taken.

Despite this, he was still able to keep his badge and work as a patrolman for 21 more years, and also served as the head of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association from 2014 until he retired in 2018, the Globe reported.

Rose was arrested in August of last year after the daughter’s allegations. Since then, five more people have come forward with allegations against him.

Mass Live reported last August that the girl, now 14, alleged she was repeatedly assaulted by Rose between the ages of 7 and 12.

He’s now in jail and faces 33 counts of sexual abuse. The six victims range from 7 to 16 years old.

Three of the victims who came forward said Rose assaulted them in the 1990s and another said the assault took place in recent years, Mass Live reported.

“My client maintains his innocence to all of the charges that have been brought against him and he maintains his innocence to what was alleged to have transpired back in 1995,” his attorney, William J. Keefe, told the Globe.

The Boston Police Department did not reply to Insider’s request for comment at the time of publication.

The Globe learned that despite the known allegations and internal review results, Rose was still allowed contact with children in his role, in some cases being dispatched to assist minors in sexual assault cases.

In 1999 he was sent to help a 14-year-old girl who called police crying, reporting that she’d been raped. He was also the arresting officer in a 2006 child sex assault case.

“What we’re describing here is an example of an institutional and systemic failure,” former Boston police lieutenant Tom Nolan told the Globe. “The department had a responsibility to ensure that this individual was no longer employed in the ranks of the Boston Police Department.”

Rose is currently being held in the Berkshire County Jail on $200,000 cash bail.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at

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Alchemista used to provide corporate catering for Moderna and TripAdvisor. It’s now using food lockers to deliver chef-made meals.

  • Alchemista is deploying temperature-controlled food lockers in offices and residential blocks.
  • The lockers sell chef-made meals, are cleaned by UV light, and are contactless.
  • Company CEO, Christine Marcus, told Insider why she decided to get into the food locker market.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

When the pandemic hit, business dried up for Boston-based corporate catering company Alchemista.

It had previously provided food for staff at companies including Splunk and TripAdvisor. As people switched to working from home, Alchemista was left with only one main client – pharma giant Moderna, which has developed a coronavirus vaccine.

But Alchemista’s CEO, Christine Marcus, used this as an opportunity to pivot her business. It’s launching a network of patent-pending food lockers, which will be deployed across offices, schools, and residential blocks and stocked with chef-made meals.

The company is focused on expanding them to residential buildings, Marcus told Insider, but also plans to roll them out to offices, college, and university campuses.

The lockers are simple to use. You scan the QR code on the locker’s tablet screen, which takes you to a payment site. After you’ve paid, the locker unlocks. This means you don’t even need an app to use them – and the whole process takes four seconds, Marcus said.

Because they’re contactless, they’re suitable for use during a pandemic, too.

from on Vimeo.

The lockers are temperature-controlled, with different versions available for heated, ambient, and refrigerated meals, and they use UV light, which the company said kills 99.9% of bacteria.

As well as an on-demand service, Alchemista lets you order up to 12 hours in advance, too, via its website.

Alchemista doesn’t just provide the lockers. It provides the food, too. It has an in-house culinary team that makes the meals and delivery drivers who bring them to the lockers each day.

Alchemista pivoted to food lockers after its corporate catering business came to a “screeching halt”

Before the pandemic, companies were trying to boost their corporate perks with offerings such as free meals to attract staff in cities with competitive labor markets – like Boston.

Alchemista launched in the Massachusetts city in 2012 to provide off-site, high-quality, chef-made meals to businesses who would essentially outsource it with the management of their food and beverage program. At first, Alchemista used third-party restaurants, but by 2019 it was delivering around 2,000 meals a day, and restaurants might not be able to keep up.

With this in mind, it decided to launch an in-house culinary team, which went on to provide most of its meals. It also launched operations in New York and Washington, DC where it experienced rapid growth, Marcus said.

Unfortunately, the pandemic caused the business “came to a screeching halt,” because it exclusively provided corporate catering, she said. “COVID basically brought our business to a complete stop, except one customer,” she added.

The business pivoted to food lockers selling individually boxed meals. Alchemista had the technology to deploy them before the pandemic, but because corporate catering was focused on encouraging staff to be social, people weren’t interested.

Alchemista food locker
Alchemista’s food lockers are six foot tall.

As well as chef-made meals, the lockers also sell charcuterie kits and snacks such as bagels made by a local bakery. This means the lockers can give smaller food businesses the opportunity to reach more customers.

Alchemista also provides high-tech contactless vending machines that allow customers to select products using an app.

Marcus said the trend of companies providing corporate catering would continue after the pandemic but as people adopt flexible working patterns, companies might pivot to food lockers instead. “I think it’s going to be a very different world when people go back to work,” she said.

The compact nature of food lockers – Alchemista’s larger versions have space for 19 meals and are roughly 6 foot by 2.6 foot – enables companies to reduce their real estate footprint, compared with on-site catering.

It’s not just offices that Marcus has her eyes on. In Boston, she’s rolling out lockers in the lobbies of residential blocks, where people can collect restaurant-made meals prepared by James Beard award-winning chefs, including wild mushroom risotto, paella, and braised beef.

Marcus hopes to expand even more in the future, too. She envisages the food lockers could be deployed across train stations, bus stops, college campuses, and schools.

Dynamify, a company that provides software services to contract caterers including Alchemista, told Insider demand for food lockers had “exploded” during the pandemic, especially in pharma companies and hospitals.

“In the long-term, we don’t believe food lockers will completely replace traditional restaurant pick-up,” Dynamify’s CEO, Maxwell Harding, said.

“However, we do see food lockers persisting in restaurants with 24/7 customers, particularly manufacturing sites and hospitals,” he added, noting they’re particularly useful for staff working night shifts.

Food lockers are also being used in restaurants for customers who don’t want to dine in. Burger King, KFC, and Smashburger are all launching food lockers, and Automat Kitchen and the Brooklyn Dumpling Shop are attempting to revive the automat.

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10 US cities paving the way for the future by investing in technology, sustainability, and infrastructure

Atlanta, Georgia
The population of Atlanta is expected to grow by nearly three million over the next few decades.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic exposed cracks in infrastructure, mobility challenges, and a digital divide.
  • These US cities will remain resilient due to investing in things like sustainable technology and innovation.
  • As a result, places like Raleigh-Durham, Denver, and Atlanta are some of the fastest-growing cities.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

If city leaders across the country learned anything from the past year, it’s the value of resilience. 

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed cracks in infrastructure, posed mobility challenges, and revealed a digital divide. The places that have fared the best are the ones that have been investing in the future, specifically in areas like digital transformation, manufacturing, sustainability, infrastructure, and innovation. 

“I don’t think we talk about resilience enough,” Diana Bowman, co-director of the Center for Smart Cities and Regions at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, told Insider. “Resilience talks about our capacity to respond in a quick way to address whatever those external challenges are.”

While investing in technology and infrastructure is key for cities of the future, Bowman said that resilience also depends on strong partnerships across the public, private, and local university sectors. 

“One of the things that we’ve seen in this last 12-month period is if you take your eye off the ball at any single one of these, then your ability to have a fully engaged school system, fully engaged workforce is really challenged, and everybody suffers as a consequence of that,” she said. For example, the influx of people working and learning from home revealed a lack of access to high-speed internet in some places. 

Cities of all sizes should be thinking about building a better tomorrow through investment and policy, or risk getting left behind. 

The need for cities to innovate and be more sustainable is coming, whether they’re prepared or not, Zachary Schafer, CEO and executive director of United for Infrastructure, a nonprofit working to modernize and repair the country’s infrastructure, told Insider. “It’s better to be developing frameworks early to understand how to deploy them, how to use them, how to benefit from them, and how to talk to residents about these technologies.”

Several US cities are already leading the way. Here’s a look at 10 places making big strides when it comes to innovation.

The cities are listed in no particular order.

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, March 2020, after lockdown order
Chicago is using digital trackers to collect data on the environment and activity to help improve city conditions.

The city of Chicago has several programs in the works aimed at updating infrastructure and advancing manufacturing. 

One example is the Smart Lighting Program, which some have referred to as the largest streetlight modernization project in the nation. It involves installing wireless, LED lights across the city, which can be dimmed or controlled remotely. The goal is to cut energy costs and improve public safety. 

To function as a kind of “fitness tracker” for the city, the Array of Things (AoT) project included placing sensors throughout the city to collect data on the environment, infrastructure, and activity. The purpose is to address traffic safety and flooding, reduce costs, and make the city more efficient and equitable. 

Both the streetlight and AoT programs come with interactive elements, so residents can track their progress and view the data collected. 

“Chicago has a good program for launching projects using digital technologies to transform the city landscape,” Schafer said. “You’re building the foundational infrastructure for a smart city or for a city to use to make smart decisions.” 

On the manufacturing front, Chicago is home to MxD (Manufacturing times Digital), which opened in 2015 to focus on digital design, automation, and digital in manufacturing. MxD is part of the Manufacturing USA initiative, which established institutes across the country to focus on different areas of technology and digital transformation in manufacturing and supply chain. 

MxD helps educate manufacturers about digital tools and processes. It has a mock production line, projects to help digitize equipment, and cybersecurity technology developed with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Honolulu, Hawaii

Hawi Wind Farm at Upolu Point, the northernmost tip of Hawaii Big Island on the Kohala Coast.
Hawaii launched the Aloha+ Challenge to address six metrics from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, including clean energy transformation.

The entire state of Hawaii is leading the charge on sustainability, Bowman said. Two years ago, Gov. David Ige issued a declaration of commitment to sustainability — though the state’s focus on sustainability started long before. 

In 2014, Hawaii kicked off the Aloha+ Challenge to address six metrics from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, including clean energy transformation, local food production, management of natural resources, solid waste reduction, creating smart and sustainable communities, and building and educating a green workforce. The initiative comes with an online dashboard that allows the public to track the progress the state is making in these areas. 

Bowman said the program is a great example of the state legislature in Honolulu working with nonprofits and private companies to achieve sustainability metrics. “If you don’t measure it, you can’t act upon it, so it’s crucial in terms of sustainability and resilience,” she added. 

The city of Honolulu has a resilience strategy and set up a Resilience Office to track how climate change is affecting the city. It’s examining “shocks” and “stresses,” such as hurricanes, tsunamis, infrastructure problems, cost of living, and vulnerable communities.

Atlanta, Georgia

The population of Atlanta is expected to grow by nearly 3 million over the next few decades, adding to traffic woes.

Atlanta has been growing exponentially, and the city is expected to add nearly three million more residents over the next couple of decades. 

To handle the growth, city leaders and stakeholders have been focusing on traffic and transportation infrastructure. Part of the plan is to add more express lanes to highways, put sensors on some roads to detect traffic patterns and weather problems, and adjust traffic lights to help with flow. 

Smart streetlights are also being added, and the city is testing a gunshot detection system that would send alerts to 911, police patrol cars, and residents’ smartphones. Other systems would help drivers detect parking spots. Atlanta partnered with Georgia Power, AT&T, and Current by GE for the project.

“There’s a lot of activity going on just in general around transit and Atlanta, in and around the larger metro area,” Christopher Le Dantec, associate professor in the School of Interactive Computing and School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech, told Insider. That means thinking through the transportation of people and goods around the city and its suburbs. 

“It’s a very difficult problem to solve because there are so many different agencies at play,” he added. 

Other initiatives center on reducing the number of cars on the road. Atlanta is expanding its walking and biking plan, providing grants to help communities become more pedestrian-friendly and encouraging different types of commuting like carpooling, flexible work schedules, and working from home. 

Incorporating more bike infrastructure has been several years in the making and involved collecting and analyzing data, Le Dantec said. “It was part of a transformation within the urban core of Atlanta, where there is now a lot more people moving around on bicycles, even prior to the past year’s events,” he added.

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio, tourists by the River Walk
San Antonio’s Office of Innovation is focused in part on digital infrastructure.

Through its Office of Innovation, San Antonio has several infrastructure and technology projects in the works.

Some are still in the development phase, but so far some city vehicles have been equipped with sensors to gather real-time data on infrastructure and identify problems like potholes and then report them to the appropriate agency for repair. The goal is to reduce calls to the city and provide upkeep to areas that tend to be neglected. 

Recently, San Antonio launched a Smart Streetlight Project that will have remote controls and sensors to monitor parking, air quality, temperature, noise, and flooding. The city also installed interactive digital kiosks at its transit hub and other locations to give residents and visitors real-time access to information about traffic, transit systems, and attractions, like local restaurants. The kiosks also provide free WiFi and access to city services. 

Cities should view digital infrastructure as a way to rethink how people interact with their government and policymakers, and give residents easy access to details about what’s going on in their city, Le Dantec said. 

“Being able to actually show what those outcomes look like becomes a really powerful way to mobilize people toward addressing these issues,” he said. 

Technology in manufacturing is another key area for San Antonio. CyManII (Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute), a Manufacturing USA institute located there, is focusing on cybersecurity and secure automation in manufacturing. These issues are critical today, as the manufacturing sector saw an uptick in ransomware attacks in 2020.

Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina

RIoT Accelerator Program pitch nights in Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh-based nonprofits like RIoT support entrepreneurship through pitch competitions and other events.

The tri-city area of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill has long been known as a hub for innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship.

In fact, Raleigh ranks third on Forbes’ list of the “Best Places for Business and Careers” for its economic and job growth and educated workforce. 

Being a tech hub and supportive of entrepreneurs and startups has attracted new residents, making Raleigh one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. 

The three cities also form the Research Triangle, along with North Carolina State University, Duke University, the University of North Carolina, and Wake Forest University. The Research Triangle Park is home to several major tech companies and known as a center for innovation and technology. 

The presence and partnerships with universities is a central part of a smart, resilient city, Bowman said. 

“You have world-class universities that have been fundamental to driving the innovation agenda,” Bowman said. “It has attracted leading tech companies and other multinationals to that space. Not only is there the benefit of having universities in terms of being able to engage with them and co-create and co-test, it becomes a supplier of high-quality talent to those companies.”

Several nonprofits exist across Raleigh-Durham, including Innovate Raleigh and RIoT, that are devoted to supporting innovation and entrepreneurship. The tech focus also extends to the manufacturing sector. The area houses a Manufacturing USA institute, PowerAmerica, focusing on semiconductor technology and electronics.

Madison, Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin - Madison students 2020
Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are encouraged to participate in sustainability initiatives.

The Wisconsin state capital has an ambitious sustainability plan to reach zero-net carbon emissions and use 100% renewable energy for city operations by 2030. The plan sets specific goals for slashing overall energy and fuel consumption and making half of city buses electric by 2035. 

Other city initiatives include increasing solar power by training unemployed and under-employed people in solar panel installation. 

The city also has goals to improve air and water quality and transportation systems, support sustainable construction, affordable housing, and local food systems, economic and workforce development, and more. 

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a number of sustainability initiatives, too, like housing and grants for students who have ideas for enhancing sustainability on campus. The university is also working to align its sustainability goals with academics and research. 

A part of its efforts are engaging key stakeholders, including universities, nonprofits, local business, and members of the public. Interviews, public meetings, and a new website in development will keep citizens informed of the progress and promote transparency. 

Local governments too often overlook the need for communication, especially in innovation and digital transformation projects, Brian Chidester, head of worldwide industry strategy for the public sector at information management firm OpenText, told Insider.

“[Madison] has really embraced that piece of it,” he said.

Phoenix, Arizona

A Chrysler Pacifica outfitted with Waymo’s self-driving technology.

Phoenix, and the entire state of Arizona, has been working to become a leader in autonomous vehicles since 2015, when the governor signed an executive order to support the testing of driverless cars. 

Phoenix has partnered with companies like GM and Lyft to allow hundreds of driverless cars to be tested on their roadways. Recently, the city began working with Waymo to launch a self-driving taxi fleet in nearby Tempe and Chandler. 

“You just see the vehicles everywhere, the Waymo vehicles in particular, and we now have a long history, and it’s just part of the landscape,” Bowman said. 

The state also created the Institute of Automated Mobility with Intel, Arizona State University, and other universities and organizations to research autonomous vehicles. Part of the goal is to create a regulatory framework that other places can model. 

One setback to the self-driving initiative was a 2018 incident when a driverless Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe. Bowman said city leaders handled the investigation in a transparent way that regained community trust and investment in the program. 

By investing in autonomous vehicle infrastructure and innovation, the hope is to cut down on traffic fatalities, help older people age in place, reduce traffic and the need for parking, and protect the environment, she explained.

“Integrating autonomous vehicles into your fleet has the potential to reduce congestion within cities, and that brings an environmental benefit with it,” Bowman said. 

Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles traffic
Traffic and road safety are the primary infrastructure topics in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles has emphasized its commitment to sustainability while addressing some of the city’s biggest infrastructure concerns, like traffic and road safety. 

A digital dashboard, called the pLAn, debuted to track and measure its Green New Deal sustainability plan. It keeps tabs on metrics like water and electricity usage, greenhouse gas emissions, and other sustainability efforts. And the data is open to the public. 

“One of the things I really like about what we see in LA is not only do they make this public — and they have a fantastic dashboard that any citizen or any individual anywhere in the world can go to and see how they’re doing based on hundreds of metrics — but they also have held themselves accountable,” Bowman said. “They’ve done a voluntary review of how well they’re doing, and the results of that review has then gone on to inform the next step.” 

Governments holding themselves accountable in this way is something other metros can learn from, she added. 

Mayor Eric Garcetti has also set a goal of reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2045, and has a number of other goals to make the city more sustainable and reduce traffic. 

For example, they’re working on a network of bus-only lanes, adjusting traffic lights to put trains first over cars, launching an electric bus fleet, creating better traffic light synchronization, and debuting bike- and pedestrian-friendly projects. 

Los Angeles is also home to one of the Manufacturing USA institutes, CESMII (Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute), that focuses on smart sensor and digital process technology to make manufacturing more efficient.

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston street sign illustrating its innovative approach to traffic management
A Boston street sign highlights its Smart Vision project.

One of Boston’s many innovation, infrastructure, and sustainability projects is the Vision Zero initiative, a smart-street project with the goal of reducing traffic accidents and fatalities through data gathering and analysis.

Through the program, Boston is investing in new infrastructure on the streets, including LED lights, surveillance cameras, sensors, and a public dashboard. The data collected will inform future decision-making on roadway improvements, like safer sidewalks and streets and advanced signage. 

Other traffic-centric innovative infrastructure programs include giving drivers real-time information about where to find parking spaces or suggestions for taking another form of transportation. The point is to reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions. The city is also working on driverless car testing, smart parking sensors, and IoT. 

Additionally, Boston is working to modernize information systems and technology in utility infrastructure to make utilities more affordable, equitable, and sustainable through the Smart Utilities Vision project. 

“[Boston] has been trying to position itself as a technology hub, so that’s part of what’s driving a lot of their digital transformation infrastructure,” Chidester said. 

Investing in innovation and infrastructure tends to attract larger companies and a highly skilled workforce, which boosts the economy, he added. Specifically, Boston has developed an environment to draw and support fintech companies. 

The Boston area has the advantage of having several universities, including Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which the city partners with to test new technology and other projects. 

“One of the things you see is cities with large, very advanced universities with good engineering programs are some of the furthest along, simply because they’ve got the partnership between academia and city government,” Schafer said. “You’ve got engineering programs going to the city to say, ‘Hey, we’re working on this technology to be tested in our city.'”

Denver, Colorado

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“Love My Air” dashboards are installed in Denver schools, relaying real-time data from area sensors to a TV display.

Denver’s population has increased 20% over the last 10 years, so the city has seen more construction and traffic, which has worsened its air quality. 

To address the issue, they launched Love My Air, a program to measure air quality in real time using pollution sensors.

The city is tackling its transportation issues by participating in Vision Zero, like Boston. This includes launching an intelligent transportation system to address traffic and road safety. The program will deploy connected vehicle technology to allow trucks to communicate with traffic signals and connect city vehicles. 

And to address and manage data around its infrastructure, Denver is creating an IoT platform to gather data about transportation, environmental health, weather, and freight. The data is pulled from road and weather sensors, street lights, universities, and other city infrastructure, which the city will use to drive future projects. 

Denver also has a partnership with Panasonic on a project called CityNow. It’s creating smart city infrastructure in a remote area that includes high-tech highways and driverless vehicles. They’ve installed WiFi, LED street lights, pollution sensors, security cameras, and a solar-powered microgrid. 

One challenge cities face in their digital transformation and innovation initiatives is that they start small, maybe with specific neighborhoods. While this makes sense, Chidester said it often creates disparate technologies, giving cities an additional challenge of making everything work together for the benefit of residents. 

“You’re not going to drop a whole bunch of technology to encompass the entire city,” he said. “Ultimately, as you crawl, walk, run, there’s the need to ensure interoperability, and the ability to take information and analytics and drive value on behalf of their citizens.” 

Data and analytics are necessary for sustainability and infrastructure efforts. But another issue cities will need to address revolves around the data they’re collecting through sensors and other means, Schafer said — specifically, who owns the data and what it’s all used for. And do citizens have the right to take their data back? 

“That’s a thorny issue that a lot of them are going to have to deal with,” he said. “Whether they like it or not, it’s coming.”

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